Tuesday, 2 December 2008

New Energy Economy Emerging in the United States - Lester Brown

Excerpts from Lester Brown's full text at Earth Policy Institute:

"A new US energy economy based on wind, solar, and geothermal energy is emerging at a pace and scale that could not have been imagined a year ago.

"Wind appears destined to become the centerpiece of the new U.S. energy economy, eventually supplying several hundred thousand megawatts of electricity. Texas has overtaken California... [with] nearly 6,000 megawatts of wind-generating capacity online and a staggering 39,000 megawatts in the construction and planning stages... (think 45 coal-fired power plants). Other leaders among the 30 states with commercial-scale wind farms are Iowa, Minnesota, Washington, and Colorado. In South Dakota, Clipper Windpower and BP are teaming up to build the 5,050-megawatt Titan wind farm, the world’s largest. Already under development, Titan will generate five times as much electricity as the state’s 780,000 residents currently use [and feed Illinois]. In Wyoming... Philip Anschutz is developing a 2,000-megawatt wind farm, a 900-mile high-voltage transmission line to California [ and another line to] Colorado cities of Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs. Wind-rich Kansas and Oklahoma are looking to build a transmission line to the U.S. Southeast to export their wealth of cheap wind energy. California is developing a 4,500-megawatt wind farm complex in the Tehachapi Mountains northwest of Los Angeles.... Maine—a wind energy newcomer—is planning to develop 3,000 megawatts of wind-generating capacity, far more than the state’s 1.3 million residents need. Delaware is planning an offshore wind farm of up to 600 megawatts, which could satisfy half of the state’s residential electricity needs. New York State, which has 700 megawatts of wind-generating capacity, plans to add another 8,000 megawatts, with most of the power being generated by winds coming off Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. And soon Oregon will nearly double its wind generating capacity with a 900-megawatt wind farm in the wind-rich Columbia River Gorge.

"Solar power is also expanding at a breakneck pace.... California, with its Million Solar Roofs plan, is far and away the leader. New Jersey is also moving fast, followed by Nevada. The largest U.S. solar cell installation today is a 14-megawatt array at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, but photovoltaic electricity at the commercial level is about to go big time. PG&E has entered into two solar cell power contracts with a combined capacity of 800 megawatts. Together, these plants will cover 12 square miles of desert with solar cells [with] peak output comparable to that of a large coal-fired power plant. Solar power plants are appealing in hot climates because their highest output coincides with the peak demand for air conditioning. The United States has the world’s only large solar thermal complex, a 350-megawatt project completed in 1991, [but] 10 large solar thermal power plants are under construction or in development... Eight of the plants will be built in California, one in Arizona, and one in Florida. Within the next three years, the United States will likely go from 420 megawatts of solar thermal generating capacity to close to 3,500 megawatts—an eightfold jump.

"96 geothermal power plants now under development in twelve western states are expected to double U.S. geothermal generating capacity....

"It is historically rare for so many interests to converge at one time and in one place...
  • No one can cut off the supply of wind, solar, or geothermal energy.
  • It also avoids the price volatility that has plagued oil and natural gas in recent decades... the price is stable since there is no fuel cost.
  • [It will] dramatically cut carbon emissions, moving us toward climate stability and thus avoiding the most dangerous effects of climate change.
  • It will staunch the outflow of dollars for oil, keeping that capital at home to invest in the new energy economy, developing national renewable energy resources and creating jobs here.
"At a time of economic turmoil and rising joblessness, these new industries can generate thousands of new jobs each week. Not only are the wind, solar, and geothermal industries hiring new workers, they are also generating jobs in construction and in basic supply industries such as steel, aluminum, and silicon manufacturing. To build and operate the new energy economy will require huge numbers of electricians, plumbers, and roofers. It will also employ countless numbers of high-tech professionals such as wind meteorologists, geothermal geologists, and solar engineers.

"To ensure that this shift to renewables continues at a rapid rate, national leadership is needed in one key area—building a strong national grid....

"[We are] now tapping energy sources that can last as long as the earth itself. Oil wells go dry and coal seams run out, but for the first time since the industrial revolution we are investing in energy sources that can last forever. This new energy economy can be our legacy to the next generation."
For more information on Earth Policy Institute’s plan to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020, see Chapters 11-13 in Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (PDF)

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